Is IndyCar really a Spec series? By all accounts, formulas and measures, it is. But when you peel back the layers of those teams operating ostensibly the same car, this breaks down like physics in the presence of a black hole.
No one should fool themselves into believing that Roger Penske and virtually any other team operating are equal. They are not. The adage that “The Devil is in the Details” is not incorrect, though it’s most often contextually misused, having worked it’s way into the English language lexicon. For you linguistic buffs, The real phrase is “God is in the Details”. No one knows where it actually came from, but is mostly attributed to the famed architect – Mies van der Rohe . That’s where Penske exists.
Every detail is examined and re-examined. You can look at the teams who are at the front year after year and no matter the rules, no matter the car or engine, they are at the front. There are exceptions to the rule, but not many.
Everyone is hoping, even praying that every race will have a potentially different winner, but that wont be the case. Certainly we can expect to see more different drivers take the checkered flag than in Formula One, but count on the teams that have paid the most attention to the details, strategy, engineering and finding that small advantage in the narrow vertical of the rules to come out on top more often than not.
Penske, Andretti and Ganassi (though downsized) have the upper hand going into the 2018 season despite RLL and AJ Foyt Racing having great driver lineups. The outliers are there on any given track, driver, engine and set-up – But they will be few. We’ll see a taste of what they can do at St. Petersburg this weekend, if it remains dry. If it rains, we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Certainly RLL, (Yes we are related, but that hasn’t stopped me yet) showed well in pre-season testing, but testing is just that, testing, not racing. Compare it to the engineers who set production car track records for their manufacturers: Just because they can rip off a fast lap does not make them racing car drivers. Race-craft and Penske-like attention to the details do.
Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato have always done well on street courses and St. Pete should be no different, I fully expect to see them up near the front if not 1-2. However with Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud in the Penske cars, the little team that could may be denied.
Let’s not leave the sneakiest IndyCar driver in the paddock out of this scrum either, Scott Dixon has the Harvick-like skill of remaining just close enough as the race plays out and then rapidly marching to the front. He has mad skills in saving his car. In St. Pete it wont be easy as you can expect more than a few crashes with the lower down-force car and the young, “gotta be Aryton Senna” right now drivers who will beyond the shadow of a doubt over drive these cars surrounded by walls.
Back to Penske for a moment. Everything Roger Penske and Tim Cindric do is like polishing diamonds. They miss virtually nothing, forgetting about the year they didn’t qualify for Indy.
I visited one of the Penske motorhomes one year to be greeted by a fellow polishing the wheels on all of the Penske motorhomes. He said to me: “You better take your shoes off before you go in”. That’s how meticulous this team is, how demanding and how accurate. The drivers have that same mindset slowly but surely drilled into them as well. Don’t make mistakes, make the other guy make mistakes.
Were I to venture to make a prediction for who will win, I would have to say Josef Newgarden. But as always, I could be wrong, but probably not.